Oy Vey!

Let’s not lose the Jewish wedding field

Volume 113, No. 6June, 2013

Harvey Mars, Esq. with Mikael Elsila
Jewish wedding gigs are increasingly becoming non-union. This will bring down wages for all musicians in the field unless we do something soon.

Jewish wedding gigs are increasingly becoming non-union. This will bring down wages for all musicians in the field unless we do something soon.

Most musicians who play single engagements in New York know that there is a separate Jewish wedding scene there – especially in Brooklyn. And at these kinds of weddings, the bride, groom and guests want a specific type of music – not mainstream wedding music. Therefore, the Jewish single engagement scene is a distinct part of the club date industry. It’s actually so different that Local 802 has a separate agreement covering Jewish single engagements.

(An example of one of the differences in our Jewish contract: many observant Jews – even many secular Jews – don’t get married from Friday sunset to Saturday night. Therefore, Sunday is the big wedding day in this field and it pays a premium in our contract. By contrast, in our standard club date contract, Saturday night scale is the premium payday.)

Since many musicians work in both fields, the union tries to maintain a close relationship between the “secular” club date contact and the Jewish single engagement contract.

We last reported about the Jewish wedding field in our January 2012 issue. At the time, we reported that Jewish wedding gigs are increasingly becoming non-union. This brings down wages for all musicians in the field. In fact, the Jewish wedding field is in the throes of a crisis that threatens to undo everything we’ve won so far. This situation has been building for many years and the problems now threaten the ability of musicians to make a decent living. The very viability of the field is at stake.

The problem has to do mainly with bands undercutting each other, driving costs lower and lower. Another problem is that bands don’t pay their musicians as employees, as required by law.

In fact, we are talking with the attorney general’s office and the Department of Labor to enforce wage and hour laws with musicians who play the Jewish wedding scene. We believe that 100 percent of these employers are in violation of the law by not withholding and paying taxes for their musicians.

Now it has become evident that two of the largest employers in the Jewish wedding field – the band Neginah and the bandleader Shloime Dachs – are seeking to terminate their relationship with Local 802. They have ceased making contribution payments for both health and pension benefits and have refused to file job reports.

In an effort to ensure that these two employers comply with their continuing legal obligations to adhere to their collective bargaining agreement, Local 802 has initiated proceedings against them at the Public Employment Relations Board. PERB is the state agency that now handles unfair labor practice complaints against private employers who do not meet the NLRB’s jurisdictional requirements.

Neginah is also the subject of a federal lawsuit initiated by the Local 802 health plan for unpaid health benefit contributions. As a result of their non-payment, the fund may request the termination of health benefits for musicians who work for Neginah.

If you have any information on Neginah or Shloime Dachs, or if you work for a band – Jewish or otherwise – that isn’t paying pension or health benefits, make a confidential call to the Organizing Department at (212) 245-4802. Help us make your job better.